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Ex Libris

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^obin Linnet


:: :: ^y E. F. Benson :: ::

:: :: Author of "Dodo," "Up and 'Down," etc. :: ::





DAMON and Pythias, collegiately and colloquially
known as Day and Pie, were seated in Damon's
room in the great quadrangle, on two chairs, side by
side, with a candle on the table that guttered in the
draught, and a copy of " Socrates's Apology " (in the
original Greek) between them. Between them also,
propped up against the candle, was a firmly literal
translation of what they were reading, to which they
both constantly referred. Underneath the candle-
stick in a far less accessible position, since they desired
to consult it much less frequently, was a Greek lexicon.
First one of them translated a few lines, with an eye
fixed on the English equivalent, and then the other.
That was a more sociable way of working than to sit
separate and borrow the crib from each other. Be-
sides, there was only one candle, stolen from another
fellow's room, as the electric light had, half an hour
ago, got tired and gone to sleep. The books, therefore,
had to be centrally situated in this small field of
imperfect illumination.

They had got to the point where Socrates, having
been warned to prepare for the administration of the


6 Robin Linnet

cup of hemlock at sundown, had sent for his wife,
Xantippe, and his children. But she had made so
unphilosophical a howling and feminine outcry that
he had sent his family away, and proceeded to spend
his last hour in the company of his friends.

Damon paused — he was translating at the moment —
and lit a pipe, while Pythias relaxed his attitude of
polite attention.

" I vote we stop," he said. " Socrates was evidently
jolly sick of it all and wanted to stop, too. It wouldn't
do to fly in the face of Socrates. Whisky ? "

Pythias shut the translation up in the original

"I'm not by way of drinking whisky," he said, " but
if you've got some ice and soda-water "

" Which you ordered for me, and put down to my
account " continued Damon.

" So I did. In that case I don't mind for once : I
think I should rather like it. It tastes beastly, but on
the other hand, I drink it not for what it is, but for
what it does. And I'm talking like Socrates. In
other words, I drink it not for drinky but for drunky.
It makes gay. Lord, what a candle ! By the grace of
God, or probably without it, I could light a better
candle than that. I could light such a candle, as an
Archbishop said just before they lit him. When do
you suppose the electric light will cease being funny ? "

" 'Bout morning."

Damon took the guttering candle away, in order to
get Pythias the refreshment that apparently he didn't
want from his gyp-cupboard, and left him in the dark.
Upon which it seemed good to Pythias to scream for
his nurse and his mother in shrill falsetto. Damon
couldn't find the ice at once, for it had been put, wrapped
up in a cloth, in his washing-basin, in order not to drip,

Robin Linnet 7

and Pythias, with the exuberance of youth, continued
screaming. . . .

Damon was the elder of the two by the space of an
entire year, which, when the one is twenty and the
other only nineteen, is the equivalent of a decade or
so later on. People of fifty and sixty, in the eyes of
youth, are of about the same age, just as people
of nineteen and twenty in the eyes of the more mature
are contemporaries. But the view of youth is probably
the more correct, for when a man has passed some
fifty years in this puzzling world, he has solved any
problem of interest that he is likely to solve, has seen
all that he is really capable of observing, and has assi-
milated all that his mental and moral digestion is
able to tackle. Consequently, it matters very little
how much older than fifty he is. . . .

But there are wonderful things dawning every day
on those of the sunnier age ; fresh horizons expand to
their cnmbings, new stars swim into larger heavens,
virgin and undiscovered slopes mount upwards for
eager footsteps. Eventually the table-land is reached,
and given that no national crisis or peril comes along
to make everybody look upwards again to toppling
precipices of ice, or menace of volcanic flame, the more
elderly trot quietly thereafter, to the eyes of youth,
along a mild and level road. They have married and
begotten children, or they have remained single with
Pekinese dogs and knitting or the club bow-window
with the evening papers, to distract them gently as
they move slowly on, and to the young it all seems
very remote and staid and uninteresting. The exciting,
the experimental age, when everything is worth trying,
and almost everything worth doing, has been left
behind ; youth, with its causeless anticipations, and
even more causeless disillusionments, its insatiable

8 Robin Linnet

curiosity, its stainless " seeing what things are like,"
has sunk gently below the horizon, and the desire
even for experiment has failed.

Our happy heroes, however, one screaming in the
dark, the other exploring a cupboard, had no idea what
most things were like, except that, without discrimina-
tion, they found that most things were jolly. At
present their best actual achievement was to have
found each other, and on that point, despite the dis-
crepancy of their ages, their discoveries were of pretty
equal merit. They had been at Eton together, and
the intense friendship formed there had, rather un-
usually, renewed itself and burned with a brighter flame
when they came together again, not yet a year ago, at
St. St ephen!s College, Cambridge. They shared the
widening horizon, and yet kept their smaller horizon —
the fresh excitements and licences of the University
had not obliterated the old. To people like tutors and
godfathers, Damon was known as Jim Lethbridge,
Pythias as Robin Linnet. It was inevitable, therefore,
that he should be more widely and intimately known
as " Birds," for how could there be an amalgamation
in one set of human limbs of a Robin and Linnet without
" Birds " being the natural formula for the owner ?
It was a very hot night at the beginning of May,
and, returning late from an idle afternoon of paddling
and bathing on the upper river, they had neither of
them gone into dinner in Hall, which would have
implied changing from shirt and flannel trousers and
nothing much besides into a more formal attire. So
Birds had ordered in a loaf of bread, a cold duck and
a pot of jam to his own account, and some ice and
soda-water and a bottle of whisky to Jim's, which
seemed about fair. The remains of this meal, about
enough for a small cat, lay on the table in the window.

Robin Linnet 9

Then the electric Hght had ceased to be, and a single
stolen candle had guttered over a half-hour's Plato. . . .

So Jim returned with preventives against thirst,
and in putting down the guttering candle, spilt some
hot wax over Robin's brown hand. So he stopped
screaming, and began obscenely swearing. The
obscenity meant nothing whatever, nor did the amazing
oaths : he talked like that just because he was a boy,
and there was only a boy to listen to him. But peace
returned with the long iced drink, and his mind went
back to Socrates and Xantippe.

" Of course he sent her and the kids away," he said.
" Being a female, she didn't understand him and his
friends. He wanted to have a little sensible con-
versation before dying. I'm sure I should. Do come
and see me when I'm dying, Jim. I'll have you and
my mother, because she's frightfully decent."

" She can't have much in common with you then,"
said Jim. " Better have the girl who sang about the

" Oysters on the pier, I remember. That was at
Easter, wasn't it ? You and I went together, and
waited at the stage-door. And she was with another
chap. Wonder who he was. Wonder ..."

" What do you wonder ? "

" Oh, nothing. It was only a rag. But I suppose
girls cease to be a rag some time. People go and marry
them and live with them happily ever afterwards. I
should be awfully uncomfortable if I thought I was
going to live with one girl for ever. Buxom : they
get buxom. There's that Jackson girl : she's buxom
already. Lord ! "

" That Jackson girl," said Jim, " told Badders you
had the most beautiful mouth she ever saw. Didn't I
tell you ? "

10 Robin Linnet

" No. She wants to kiss me, and I don't want to
kiss her : that's wliere we are. She's hke a fat ferret,
though most of them are lean. Marrying now ! I
don't want to marry anybody. I shouldn't sleep a
wink with somebody snorting and breathing all night
long. And if you have a separate room they divorce
vou, don't they ? "


" Well, the sooner I'm divorced the better," said

" You've got to marry first."

Robin took a long draught from his whisky and soda.

" I should like to be divorced first," he said, " and
marry aftervvards. And yet some fellows think about
nothing but girls the whole blessed day. Badders
does. Pure waste of time. Give me a girl for ten
minutes, and then let me come back to my own little
room. There's a time for everything under the sun,
and, thank God, it's not time to marry yet ! "

Birds had lit a couple of cigarettes by mistake as he
gave utterance to these misogynistic expressions, and
put one in each corner of his beautiful mouth, and tried
to drink his whisky and soda with the section of mouth
that lay in between them. That was not a very great
success, because one cigarette fell into his glass and
the other got whisky-logged. So he had to have
some more ice and whisky and soda-water. Jim, at
the moment, was bending over the candle as he lit his
pipe, and there was a convenient cavity between his
neck and the collar of his shirt. And with the force
and suddenness of conviction or conversion, it was
borne in upon Birds that a small lump of his ice must
be instantly inserted in that opening. This feat was
accomplished with masterly precision.
/ Jim gave one gasp of surprise and shock as the ice

Robin Linnet ii

slid down his spine, and turned the siphon full into
Birds' face. This half blinded him for a moment, then
he seized Jim round the waist and closed with him.
The siphon got wedged between their chests, and Jim's
iron finger never relaxed till it was empty, though he
received his due share of the contents himself. A
chair crashed to the ground, the table toppled and
overturned, the candle went out, and from the darkness
came squeaks and pants from the entangled wrestlers.
Birds' dripping shirt was split from shoulder to waist
by the nozzle of the siphon, but eventually he wi-iggled
from under the superincumbent Jim, sat firmly on his
chest, and grasped the pit of his stomach.

" Well ? " he said, very much out of breath.

" All right : that'll do. Whatever we are, let's be
calm. And dignified. . . . Dignified. . . . And calm.
. . . Besides, that lump of ice won't melt, and it's
hurting me."

" Are you sorry ? Damned sorry ? " asked Birds.

" Yes ! Oh, get up, you foul pig ! "

The door opened, and Badders, who was Badsley,
looked in. At that precise moment the electric light
was restored, and shone on the upheaval.

" I thought I heard a cuckoo singing," he remarked,
" or some other bird."

Jim advanced stealthily on him.

" That is very interesting," he said. " You thought
you heard a cuckoo, did you ? Birds, get between him
and the door."

The ill-starred Badders was a moment too late in his
retreat. Birds tripped him up, and Jim laid him flat
on the floor. " The only question is what to do with
him," he said. " Shall we bind the sacrifice with
cords ? Cuckoo, indeed ! That's an insult to you,
Birds. You shall choose."

12 Robin Linnet

So Badders was tied up, trussed like a fowl and set
in the corner, and the others threw paper darts at his
face. He was obhged under threat of torture to open
his mouth wide, and the first who threw a paper dart
into it won. It lasted some time, and then the usual
evening rag was over, the room was restored to some
semblance of order, and all three sat down for refresh-
ments. Birds stripped off his torn and dripping shirt,
and sat on the floor just as Nature had made him as
far as the waist. She had made him very nicely indeed.

" Fifth of May," announced Badsley, " and I would
to God it were the fiftieth."

" Why ? "

" Because I've got my Tripos coming on. That's the
result of being so devilish clever and being told to take
your Tripos in your second year. I almost wish I was
a fool like Jim or you. What have you two been
doing ? Why weren't you in Hall ? "

" Went up to Granchester in a canoodle, which
rhymes with caboodle."

" There was a young lady of Exeter," remarked
Badders thoughtfully.

" No, there wasn't. At least, w'e know all about

" She was more amusing than going to Granchester.
Why didn't you play cricket this afternoon instead of
slacking ? "

" Because I'm playing for the University of Cam-
bridge all to-morrow and the next day," said Birds,
" and three days' consecutive cricket is more than I
can bear."

" That's swank."

" It is. You'd swank if you had been asked to play
for the 'Varsity. ' Oh, Mr. Linnet,' they said to me,
they did, ' will you come and play bat and ball with

Robin Linnet 13

us ? It would be nice of j^ou, it would. Some boys
from Middlesex are coming up to play against us, they
are, and we will have such fun ! ' So I said I would,
I did, and I will. There'll be three stumps one end
and three stumps the other, and a lot of little popping
creases. And I shall put my bat in front of my wicket,
and hit the ball high, high up in the air, and they'll all
run to catch it together, and then dear little Birds
will have made one run."

" God ! " said Jim. There really seemed very little
else to say.

" After that " began Birds again.

" Oh, shut it ! "

" After that," said Birds, not paying the slightest
attention, " I shall pat the little popping creases with
my little bat, and change hats with the umpire. And
when they're all ready again "

" He's drunk," said Badders.

" I think it extremely unlikely : I am dead sober.
Oh, I went to a lecture by Jackson to-day, and noticed
for the first time that he had a green moustache. Why
is that, I wonder ? "

" Did he give you a billydux from Julia ? "

" Yes. And told us a great deal about the Pelo-
ponnesian War that I really had no conception of
before. No conception whatever, I assure you. The
Peloponnese is shaped like a fig leaf, hence its name,
and when Adam and Eve were turned out of the
Paradise, and sent to the Vomitorio, as Jackson

" He didn't."

" Quite right, he didn't. But I am delirious to-night,
and attribute it to spending the afternoon on the Cam.
Lord, it was jolly up there ! Beechen green and shadows
numberless, you know, and lots of peewits. And Jim

14 Robin Linnet

sang of summer in full-throated ease. My throat was
full, too, because we had tea."

Jim had lain down on the floor, with his back propped
up against Birds' knees, who in turn was propped up
by the sofa where Badders sat.

" Hail to thee, blithe peewit, Birds thou never
wert," he remarked fatuously.

" Never," said Birds, suddenly opening his knees,
so that Jim fell flat on the ground. He made no effort
whatever to move, and continued lying there, while
Birds got up and put a college cap on his head, and
invested himself in a scholar's gown, which, against his
bare skin, looked somehow strangely indecent. He
put his head on one side, in the manner of Jackson
lecturing, and pulled the place where his moustache
Avould have been, had he had one.

" I can't think what Sphodrias was about," he began,
" and if you'll turn to the third chapter of the fourth
book you'll see how perfectly inexplicable it was that
he should have been kicking his heels at Sphacteria "

He broke off.

" Lor ! A very poor sort of fellow is Jackers," he

" And if it hadn't been for Jackers there'd have been
no Julia," remarked Jim, as he lay gazing at the ceiling
from his prone position on the hearth-rug.

Julia's victim considered this. He had found a small
piece of duck left from the meal that he and Jim had
made earlier in the evening, and decided it was worth

" No, you're wrong there," he said. " There would
have been Julia somehow, with or without Jackers.
Julia's the sort of girl who is bound to happen, like
earwigs and Tripos. Julia Jackson ! What a name !
Did you ever hear such a name ? "

Robin Linnet 15

Badsley had sat up on the sofa and was regarding
Birds as he sat eating duck with bare chest and bare
arms, clad in his preposterous college cap and gown
and pair of flannel trousers.

" Do put something else on, Birds," he said, " or
take something off. You make me blush. Why is it
that a man with no clothes on is quite proper, but a
man with no clothes and a top hat is so wildly im-
proper ? ' '

" Dunno, and duncare. I'm quite comfortable, I
am. I wish there was some more food."
" Whereas in silks my Julia goes," said Jim.
" Take her, then : she's your Julia. You said so,"
said Birds, with his mouth full. "That's all right."

" Birds, you talk about girls in a perfectly beastly
way," said Badsley.

" I don't talk about them at all unless somebody
else begins. Then I say what I think, like a little
gentleman. I like girls, smart ones, like those in

revues, just for a little while. Whereas Badders "

" Badders the troubadour touched his guitar," said
Jim. " But I hope he won't."

"I won't," said Badders. "All the same, to pass
through a single day without feeling keen about a
girl seems to me an aMdful waste of time."

" Gay Lothario," said Jim. " Who is it now ? Still
the thing in the tobacconist's shop ? "

" No, you ass, of course not. That was only "

" Practice, to keep the Troubadour's hand in," said
Birds. " Poor little devil ! Think what you make
them suffer, Badders. All the little victims in a row,
dying for love of the lusty troubadour. Thing in the
tobacconist's shop has expired, I suppose. Who is it
now ? "

" It's your grandmother," said the nettled Badders.

16 Robin Linnet

" Well, you have put your foot in it there," said
Birds serenely. " She died last Sunday."

" Oh, I say, I'm sorry," said Badders.

Jim, lying on the floor, gave one loud puff of sup-
pressed laughter, and was silent again ; Badsley thought
it odiously unfeeling of him.

" I say, Birds, I really am sorry," he repeated.

" Yes, I know. That's all right," said Birds quietly.
" How could you have told ? Dear old Grannie !
She always lived with us, you know."

Badsley knew nothing of the sort, but his face grew
long with penitence.

" Well, I can't say any more," he remarked. " I
think I'll go to bed."

Birds was leaning his elbows on the table, with his
head in his hands. He spoke in a choked voice.

" Don't think anything more about it, old chap," he
said. " 'Twasn't your fault."

Badsley got up.

" Well, good-night, people," he said.

" Stop a minute. As you have talked about Grannie,
you might like to hear more about her. It wasn't
really such a blow, because she was eighty-five, and had
cancer in the pit of her stomach. Also staggers."

A faint conjecture dawned in Badsley' s mind.

" I say, are you ragging ? " he asked.

" Of course I am. I haven't had a grandmother for
years, and I suppose I shall never get one now. I
began too late. I can't think what Sphodrias was

Badsley stumbled over Jim, who was loudly cackling.

" I feel exactly as if I was in a lunatic asylum," he

" You are : in the room where the violent cases are
put. This is the padded room."

Robin Linnet 17

Birds squinted horribly, and with his beautiful
mouth open and his tongue hanging out, began to count
the fingers of one hand with those of the other. With
his yellow hair falling over his forehead and his college
cap perched on the back of his head, and his insane
attire, he looked madder than anything in Bedlam.

" Oh, stop it," said Badders. " You'll give me

" I'm one myself. But as we've disposed of my
grandmother, who is she ? Is she a shop-girl or a
flower-girl or a barmaid ? "

" None. She's a lady."

" I see. Tobacconist's girl was a perfect lady : you
often told me so," said Jim. " Of the two, I think the
imperfect kind is the best. They aren't so damned

" You two fellows are absolutely idiotic," said
Badders. " There's no point in anything unless a girl
comes into it somehow. I shall go to bed."

" Do," said Birds cordially. " And mind you either
slam the door or leave it open. Open or slammed :
don't shut it properly whatever happens."

After this Badsley could hardly do less than slam the
door first, and then throw it wide open. So Jim threw
a cushion at it which shut it again.

" Badders is tedious," he said, getting up from the
floor. " He can only think of one subject in the whole
world. Narrow, I call it. What's the next thing to

The two went to the window of these rooms on the
ground floor and leaned out, sniffing the warm night
air. The sky was moonless but very clear, and a host
of stars made that amazing twilight which is like no
other in the world for infinite suggestive softness.
Instead of the blacks and whites of moonlight, the


18 Robin Linnet

world was painted in myriad shades of browns from
the darkest hues of sepia where shadow lay over black,
to a colour nearly yellow, where the rim of white stone
round the fountain in the middle of the court stood
open to the full galaxy of starlight. To the right the
openwork of the stone screen that separated the court
from the street outside let in the white garishness of
the incandescent lamps, but it did not penetrate far,
and the great windows and pinnacles of the chapel
opposite, and the long block of the Fellows' Buildings
to the left were all submerged in this dim brown sea
of starlight. There was a flower-box along the window
from which they leaned, and a faint smell of musk
and mignonette wandered into the room thick with
tobacco smoke.

" Breath of air before bed, don't you think ? " said
Jim. " Come on ! "

" Yes, just as far as the bridge. Lend me a coat, will
you ? I should be proctorized for only having a cap
and gown, shouldn't I ? "

" Probably. There's a blazer."

The two boys strolled into the night arm-in-arm and
walked silently out on to the huge square of grass behind
Fellows' Buildings. A heavy dew had fallen after this
hot day, and the surface of the grass was covered with a
shimmering grey mantle of moisture, in which their
steps made dark rents. Birds, as became him, whistled
gently under his breath, but for a time neither of them
broke the secret sense of intimate companionship by
speech. No breeze stirred in the towers of the elms to
the left ; even the willow by the side of the bridge had
no movement in its slim pendulous fingers of leaf, and
the reflecting surface of the slow stream was unbroken
by any wandering ripple. Once or twice a feeding fish

Robin Linnet 19

made a dim pattern of concentric circles on the water, and
still in silence, Birds struck a match to light a final
cigarette. Though the night was so windless, he shielded
it in his hands, and the light showed through the flesh
of his fingers as through the walls of some rosy cave.
For the moment his face was vividly illuminated, then,
as he dropped the match over the parapet, it was
swallowed back into the darkness again. From below,
after an interval, came the faint hiss of the extinguished

The light close to his face had dazzled Jim a little, and
after it had gone out he still had before his eyes, faintly
swimming in the darkness, the semblance of Birds' head.
" I can see you still," he said, " though it's dark.
Why's that ? Oh, now you've gone."
Birds drew on his cigarette.

" No, I haven't," he said. " I'm here all right. Ah,
listen ! "

Early though it was in the summer, this hot spell of
weather had set the birds mating, and suddenly from the
elms across the field beyond the bridge, there sounded
the bubbling song of some love-entranced nightingale.
Liquid and clear it rose and fell, with all spring behind
it and all the promise of summer to follow. Four long
notes it gave, and broke into a torrent of jubilant
melody. It rose to the height of its ecstasy and
suddenly stopped.

" Good bird," said Jim appreciatively. " I call that

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